Smoke Signals: Heroic actions should not be missed in turmoil of Zimmerman decision

by Tim Troglen | reporter Published:

The July 13 decision by a Florida jury to acquit George Zimmerman in the shooting of Trayvon Martin has again caused America's racial wounds to rip open as opponents on both sides of the ruling, along with some national media outlets, use race, like gasoline, to fuel the flames of controversy.

I won't do that. Nor will I discuss the decision.

What I will do is tell you about three individuals who risked their own lives to save a boy from a river, without giving any thought to him being a different skin tone.

The odds are this story will not get national headlines or have late-night talking heads wagging their tongues about the outcome. But to me, this story is an important one that shows people are people and heroes are heroes.

To me, the July 11 actions of Kameron Williams, 21, Phil Watkins, 23 and Kaila Watkins, 21, classify them as American heroes. The three residents of Timber Top apartments in Akron dove into the rain-swollen Mud Brook tributary July 11 after an autistic 12-year old boy, Nicholas Shaffer, also a resident at the complex, fell or jumped into the raging water around 5:45 p.m.

The three who attempted the rescue are black. Nicholas was white.

Does it matter? Not usually.

But after recent events, maybe some need to know there are still individuals who will risk their own lives to save others, just because we are people. That is important.

According to police reports, Nicholas was dangling his feet in the water when he either jumped or fell and was carried away by the current.

Nicholas' little sister screamed for help.

"I was in my apartment and heard a little girl yelling, 'Help my brother fell in the lake,'" Williams said July 15.

Akron Police Lt. Rick Edwards said Nicholas' mom "immediately jumped into the water and tried to grab him, but the current was too strong, so she got back out of the water."

"The last thing she saw was him going down the [stream]," Edwards told Steve Wiandt, a reporter with Cuyahoga Falls News-Press.

As the boy's mom watched her son being pulled down the stream, Williams ran from his apartment and "saw his [Nicholas] face in the lake," Williams said.

"He was floating," Williams added.

Williams saw Phil and Kaila by the water and the three grabbed a nearby raft and jumped in, attempting to reach Nicholas.

"It was kind of an adrenaline pump. I wouldn't say I was scared -- [well, maybe] a little bit," Williams said.

The current was so strong it knocked Williams from the raft and tossed him into the muddy water, he said. The raft remained stuck on a tree branch as of July 15, according to Williams.

"It was really high. We were getting pulled under and there were trees back there," Williams said of the water. "We were in the water for probably an hour and 1/2."

Williams, who is employed by GOJO Industries, said the three would-be rescuers searched "over and under" objects, trying to find Nicholas, until the fire department made them leave the water.

Williams does not swim in the area, he said.

"It's actually pretty dirty water, I think the sewage runs in there and it's kind of gross," Williams said.

Williams, who did not know Phil and Kaila, said he did not know Nicholas either.

"I had never met little Nic," Williams said.

But that did not stop him from trying to help.

Neither did it stop Williams from meeting with the family and checking with fire crews in the following days.

Nor did it stop his heart from being broken July 14 when fire department officials found the body of Nicholas a short distance from where he fell in.

"I wish we would have gotten to him," Williams said. "I'm sad that they had to find him a few days later. I felt really, really, really bad."

Williams said his thoughts and prayers are going out to the family.

So are mine.

My thoughts and prayers are also with you Kameron, Phil and Kaila. Your unselfish deed is what America is supposed to be about -- people helping people.

Throughout my life I've had a lot of heroes. The list includes my dad, William Troglen, Apache warrior Geronimo and former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

On July 11 three more names were added -- Kameron Williams, Phil Watkins and Kaila Watkins.

You three are true heroes and that is one title, no matter what life brings, that can ever be taken away.

Email: ttroglen@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9435

Facebook: TimTroglenRPC

Twitter: @Trog_RPC

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